2024 NFL Futures: Panthers Wagers Are Our Expert’s Favorite Bets

2024 NFL Futures: Panthers Wagers Are Our Expert’s Favorite Bets article feature image

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images. Pictured: Bryce Young.

We may still be a few months away from the NFL season, but with the schedule out, it's never too early to start looking at the futures market.

Stuckey and I did a deep dive into our early leans on win totals and more futures on the Action Network Podcast this week, but I wanted to highlight one team in particular that I'm buying at this early stage: the Carolina Panthers. Be sure to listen to both our NFC Win Totals and AFC Win Totals episodes for full breakdowns on all 32 teams. You can read my analysis of the Panthers below.

Carolina Panthers Over 4.5 Wins (-140, DraftKings/BetMGM)

I was extremely bearish on the Panthers entering last season, but I’ve done a 180 heading into this season.

Why? Let's get into it.

Goodbye Frank Reich, Hello Dave Canales

Despite Carolina having to endure 11 games of head-coaching has-been Frank Reich and six more games of never-was-and-never-will-be-again Chris Tabor, in addition to No. 1 pick Bryce Young posting one of the worst quarterback seasons in NFL history, the underlying metrics suggest the Panthers were not quite as bad as their 2-15 record. They were 2-6 in one-score games, which have historically proven to be a 50-50 proposition regardless of team quality.

While the Panthers' -10.6 average point differential was abysmal, it was still representative of a 3.5-win team rather than two, according to Pythagorean win expectation. Since 2002, teams that underperform their Pythagorean win total by at least one win are 83-68-4 (55.0%) to the over on their win total in the following season.

Carolina’s biggest issue in 2023 was an offense that averaged a putrid 13.9 points per game, which was tied with the Patriots for the lowest in the NFL. The driver of my bearishness on the Panthers last season was Reich, who had shown an inability to effectively scheme without head coach-caliber assistants (Nick Sirianni, Jonathan Gannon and Matt Eberflus), an inability to effectively scout talent, especially at quarterback (a broken Carson Wentz and washed Matt Ryan in Indianapolis) and an inability to generate buy-in or properly motivate his team (as evidenced by his team’s late-season choke job in 2021 and his subsequent mid-season dismissals).

Enter new head coach Dave Canales, who was the architect behind career-best seasons from Baker Mayfield last season with Tampa Bay and Geno Smith in 2022 with Seattle. It’s also worth noting that upon Canales’ departure, Smith failed to replicate his 2022 success, experiencing big dips in completion rate (69.8% to 64.7%), touchdown rate (5.2% to 4.0%) and passer rating (100.9 to 92.1).

Only time will tell how good Canales is in terms of being a leader of men and balancing his offensive game-planning responsibilities with his added responsibilities as head coach, but his track record of maximizing the talents of underperforming first-round quarterbacks bodes well for Young.

The New General Manager

The other driver for my bearishness on Carolina heading into last season was former general manager Scott Fitterer, whom I believed did a poor job covering for Reich’s deficiencies in talent evaluation and set Young up to fail with an offseason to forget for the ages.

There was hiring Reich, then there was trading away No. 1 receiver D.J. Moore to acquire Young. Giving big money to 33-year-old Adam Thielen actually worked for half of a season, but overpaying for Miles Sanders and Hayden Hurst proved to be a mistake. Then there was the offensive line, which ended up being one of the league’s worst in 2023.

Whatever you think of new GM Dan Morgan, Fitterer is addition by subtraction. Also, Morgan has already made more moves that should have a positive effect on Young and improve the offense than Fitterer ever did.

One of Morgan’s most important moves was trading cornerback Donte Jackson to Pittsburgh for wide receiver Diontae Johnson. Surrounding Thielen in the slot last season were a couple of big-bodied wideouts who failed to generate much separation in DJ Chark (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) and Jonathan Mingo (6-foot-1, 226 pounds). Chark drew a target on only 12.8% of his routes, and Mingo wasn’t much better at 15.4%. Over Johnson’s five-year career, he is averaging 5.1 receptions per game and has drawn a target on 24.3% of his routes.

Morgan also added more speed and explosiveness at the skill positions in the draft. The 32nd pick was South Carolina wide receiver Xavier Leggette, who ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at 6-foot-1, 221 pounds and is basically a more explosive version of Mingo with a higher pedigree. The 46th pick was Texas running back Jonathan Brooks should ensure the Panthers avoid relying on Sanders, despite coming off a torn ACL. Fourth-round tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders, who has drawn comps to Luke Musgrave, is a great bet to provide more than Hurst’s 18-184-1 numbers from last season.

Morgan also bolstered the interior offensive line, which is paramount for an undersized quarterback like the 5-foot-10 Young, by signing former Dolphins guard Robert Hunt and former Seahawks guard Damien Lewis. While Ikem Ekwonu and Taylor Moton were a solid tackle duo –  Moton’s 74.6 PFF grade was 23rd of 81 qualified tackles, and Ekwonu’s 67.4 grade was 40th – Carolina's best guard last season was 2022 sixth-round pick Cade Mays, whose 58.3 grade ranked below average among 79 qualified guards. Veterans Gabe Jackson (58.1) and Austin Corbett (47.9) were worse, and compounded matters by appearing in just four games apiece, while rookies Nash Jensen (34.7) and Chandler Zavala (26.2) were below replacement level.

Hunt was the sixth-best guard (76.4) and earned top-10 marks as both a pass-protector (74.4) and run-blocker (74.7). Lewis graded out slightly above average (59.4, 37th) but has upside for more having ranked 11th in 2022.

Young was pressured on 253 dropbacks, second-most, and completed just 39.1% of his passes for 4.0 yards an attempt with one touchdown and four interceptions under duress. Among the 32 most-pressured quarterbacks, Young had the second-highest share of pressure from right guard (25.8%) and the fifth-highest share of pressure from left guard (23.5%). Adding Hunt and Lewis should pay massive dividends.

A Solid Defensive Foundation

Defensively, the Panthers are in good hands with defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, who was retained from last year’s staff by Canales.

Evero’s defenses have finished top-seven in yards allowed in both of his seasons as defensive coordinator, with his former team, the Broncos, plummeting 22 spots last year with him having moved on to Carolina. While Carolina’s season-long defensive DVOA ranking (25th) doesn’t look great, it finished 13th in weighted DVOA, which factors in late-season games more heavily than early games. There was a night-and-day shift before and after the bye for Evero’s unit, with Carolina allowing 31.0 points and 342.2 total yards per game in six games pre-bye but just 20.9 points and 267.6 total yards per game in 11 games post-bye.

Defensive performance tends to be volatile from one year to the next, but it’s fair to expect a higher floor and ceiling for the defense in Year 2 under Evero’s scheme. And while losing an elite, 26-year-old stud edge like Brian Burns is never ideal over the long haul, it’s worth noting that Jadaveon Clowney (71 pressures, 9.5 sacks in 17 games) was more productive last season than Burns (40 pressures, 8.0 sacks in 16 games) and could help mitigate the loss in the short term.

More Nuggets

As is to be expected for a last-place team, the schedule is favorable. Save for a quartet of games against teams with double-digit win totals (vs. Bengals, vs. Chiefs, at Eagles and vs. Cowboys), every game on the schedule looks winnable. The only other team the Panthers will face that currently has a win total above 8.5 is the Falcons, a divisional opponent that was responsible for one of Carolina’s two wins last season.

Another reason to like the Panthers is that, unlike most teams, betting the over on a team like Carolina wouldn’t be adversely affected by an injury to its starting quarterback. Young’s backup is once again slated to be Andy Dalton, who threw for 361 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in his only start last season, leading the Panthers to their second-highest point total (27) and yardage total (378) of the season.

Finally, in addition to the trend mentioned above of teams going over at a 55% clip after underperforming their Pythagorean win total by 1+, numerous other historical trends support a play on the over in this spot.

  • Win totals for teams that won four or fewer games in the prior season are 58-42-5 (58.0%) since 2002.
  • Win totals for teams that won four or fewer games in the prior season and then hired a new head coach are 33-23-4 (58.9%) since 2002.
  • Win totals for teams with first-time head coaches are 59-44-4 (57.3%) since 2002.
  • Win totals for teams that won four or fewer games in the prior season and then hired a first-time head coach are 24-12-2 (66.7%) since 2002.

Bet to: Over 5.5 (+100)

Carolina Panthers to Win NFC South (+1500, DraftKings)

The Panthers won two games last season but played to the level of a 3-4 win team. Based on expected improvements, they should win between five and seven games this season. If they get unlucky, they could still win 3-4 games. If they get lucky, they could win 8-9.

And in no division would luck benefit the last-place team more than the NFC South, which has the lowest combined Vegas win total of the teams projected to finish top-three of any division (win totals via BetMGM):

  • AFC North 30.5 (BAL 11.5, CIN 10.5, CLE 8.5)
  • AFC East 29.5 (BUF 10.5, MIA 9.5, NYJ 9.5)
  • NFC North 28.5 (DET 10.5, GB 9.5, CHI 8.5)
  • NFC East 27.5 (PHI 10.5, DAL 10.5, WAS 6.5)
  • NFC West 27.5 (SF 11.5, LAR 8.5, SEA 7.5)
  • AFC South 26.5 (HOU 9.5, JAX 8.5, IND 8.5)
  • AFC West 26.5 (KC 11.5, LAC 8.5, LV 6.5)
  • NFC South 24.5 (ATL 9.5, TB 7.5, NO 7.5)

The NFC South also is tied for the lowest win total for the projected division winner (Falcons, 9.5) and is the only division with only one team expected to finish .500 or better. And Atlanta is vulnerable with a new head coach and a quarterback who's 36 years old and coming off an Achilles tear.

Since 2003, 24 teams (1.09 per season) have won their division after closing with the longest odds. The same number has gone from worst to first. The worst-to-first hit rate is 14.29%, while the closing odds to win the division of all last-place teams average out to an implied probability of 12.72%. That's a +1.57% edge, which means it has actually been slightly profitable to simply blind bet every last-place team to win its division (and this is against closing odds, which tend to be sharper than those listed in the offseason).

In addition to the big-picture trends, there is recent and relevant precedent for such a turnaround. In 2021, the Jaguars finished last in the AFC South at 3-14 under Urban Meyer. Then Trevor Lawrence took a step forward and they won the division at 9-8 under Doug Pederson.

Also, Canales' Bucs rode a career-best passing season from Baker Mayfield (4,044 yards, 28 TDs) to first place in the NFC South after closing with the longest odds to win the division at +750.

Bet to: +600

All historical odds data is via SportsOddsHistory.com. All other data is via PFF unless otherwise noted.

How would you rate this article?

This site contains commercial content. We may be compensated for the links provided on this page. The content on this page is for informational purposes only. Action Network makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy of the information given or the outcome of any game or event.